East of Calgary the prairie expands out to the horizon, and if you head out there, after about two hours the grassland drops off to expose the badlands that lie beneath. Dinosaur Provincial Park resides out there and is a buggy infestation. Well. Wait. It’s also really neat; along the bottomland a stream feeds a nice collection of cottonwoods making a pretty little oasis of the park’s campground – and a breeding ground for mosquitoes. But, really, its nice.
We arrived around 5 in the evening, setup camp, and made dinner. The kids loved the playground and mucking about in the stream (even with the bugs). There is a nice little shop slash cafeteria slash shower house where we got ice cream and admired the log cabin of an amazing man named John Ware; a former slave who made his way to Alberta as a horseman.
The highlight, though, was biking the loop dirt road around the badlands. Along the road, are 4 pull off spots with bike racks and trail heads. The first was a 2km hike around the badland hills, following a trail of info boards to learn how the area was formed by an ancient inland sea. The kids were like, “yeah we knew that. It made the continent of Laramidia, the dinosaur big city….. duh. King sings about it on Dinosaur Train.” Still. It was cool to see. And I found a fossil. I did not disturb or remove it, just picked it up for a picture and replaced.
The next two pull offs were the best. They had fossils in situ – still half in the ground as if they were still being dug out – under a glass walled display building. Each had a unique audio guide that offered more cool info. The third one also had a trail leading out to the location of a big dinosaur fossil quarry; one of the locations where paleontologists dug a ton of dino’s out. The little audio on this was cute. It sounded like the gentlemen digging, and then the one guy says, “Its good we started early before the bugs got bad.” and the other retorts, “Yes, I can’t get much work done as I keep having to stop and slap myself”. So, I guess the skeeters are nothing new. I found more fossils at this site as well, and made sure to keep them where they were found – just laying on the ground like rocks.
The final pull off was a nice bug filled walk through the tall grass and cottonwood clump down by the river. We skipped it, feeling the experience of camping overnight in the cottonwood clump was enough for us. Back at the campsite, our little bug killing machine was doing a good job keeping the immediate area fairly bug free, but the kids went to play in the creek bed again while I did some much needed camper cleaning.
After a while Avi came running to me, “Zoe needs help!” he yelled. So, I dropped my dustpan and followed him down to the creek where Zoe was standing in what appeared to be hip-depth water. She was laughing, “I’m stuck!” and I totally thought they were pulling my leg until she said, “no, really, mom I’m stuck.” And she was. It was quicksand, I kid you not. She was mid-thigh into it, with the creek only running about 6 inches deep over top. I thought she was sitting, but NO she was stuck and the more she wriggled, the deeper her legs went. I stood behind her and grabbed around her waist to tug her out and she wouldn’t budge. I tried again under armpits, around from the front, and jerkily from the back again until she was crying in pain. I pulled so hard I ended up really hurting her round the ribs, but she didn’t even move!! In the mean time we were getting so bit up by mosquitoes it was crazy painful – through my clothes, in my hair, ouch. Our new rescue tactic was to dig her out, but the muck just kept back-filling, so we focused on one foot at a time. Avi and I dug down to her right ankle, careful to pull our sinking feet up to the surface frequently. She jiggled and finally the one foot plopped free. The other was just as difficult, but finally, after a good half hour of rescuing, Zoe came out. She was cold now, and sore, and we were all covered in bug bites.
The irony of it all did not go unnoticed. Here we were surrounded by the fossilized remains of countless dinosaurs who met their demise in the marshy muddy edges of the inland sea; and then Zoe got sucked into the exact same mud. Lucky for us, opposable thumbs come in handy for digging, and there isn’t an Albertasaurus round the corner.
I grabbed towels and our shower basket and we marched off to the shower house where the water wasn’t nearly warm enough. Even after a good cleaning and nice dry warm PJs Zoe was still all shook up, shivering, and especially pained around the chest where I tried to pull her out. By now it was nearly dark, so we read and slept. In the morning she felt much better!
We drove south, crossed the border into Montana, and rolled into Malmstrom AFB by mid afternoon. Zoe’s 10 year birthday marks a big event in the life of a military brat: ID card time! This was the first base we passed since her birthday, so it was a must-stop location. Took a bit to find the right office, but by 4pm she had her new responsibility and was excited to use it for the privilege of buying a slush at the BX shopette.
The base was nice, and we decided to stay at the famcamp with its full hookups and cheap rate. It was the perfect pit stop to hand wash and hang dry some sand-filled clothes while the kids enjoyed the playground nearby. We all got nice long hot showeres and were early to bed, too, as the next day was a long 370mi drive to Idaho Falls.